Monday, July 2, 2018

Roe V. Wade is in the news again

The pending retirement of Justice Kennedy has triggered a lot of conversation in the last week or so. The Democrats are still smarting over the fact that Merrick Garland was cheated out of his rightful place on the court, and the Republicans are happy about the fact that Donald Trump was able to get a conservative judge appointed to the Court. The fact that three dubious cases were decided this past week by a 5-4 vote (Texas redistricting, public employee union dues, and the Muslim ban) should be cause for concern by BOTH political parties, but most of the anguish will be on the liberal side.


The fear of many folks on the liberal side is that the 1973 case of Roe v Wade will be weakened if Trump gets another conservative judge on the bench. Since Trump has a long track record of nominating the worst possible people for positions (including the members of his cabinet) there is certainly probable cause to be worried. Since Trump’s selection is scheduled to be made public on July 9, we’ll know in the near future if we should be concerned. However, there IS speculation that Chief Justice Roberts will now swing more to the center, which may help keep things on an even keel. Regardless of who is chose, though, Republican Senator Susan Collins has gone on record that she will not approve any candidate who does not support Roe v. Wade, so things are going to get very interesting in the near future.  

Just like gun control and immigration, abortion is simply one of those topics that always generates the strongest emotions. Before you go any further, though, read the article below, which I published in January of 2011.;postID=4439285289035291562;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=293;src=link
Once you are done doing that, I would next recommend reading “Scarlet A’, a novel by a professor named Katie Watson, I read it earlier that year, and found it to be the MOST comprehensive coverage of all sides of the issue that I have ever read.

Although abortion is prohibited by virtually all religions, the fact of the matter is that religion has little bearing on which women will have abortion, since Catholic women choose the procedure just as often as women in the general population.

The real surprise this year was that abortion was legalized in Ireland, which is considered one of THE most Catholic countries in the world. By the time all the votes were counted, the “yes” votes were 66.4% of the total for the referendum, which was known informally as “Savita’s law”. Although the article posted below goes into more detail, the short version is that a 31 year old dentist named Savita Halappanavar was not allowed to induce a miscarriage for her brain dead fetus, and died as a result.

A little closer to home, a local columnist names Joanna Allhands had a very similar experience 4 years ago, and recently published her story in the paper:

The irony of the abortion issue is that both sides have the same goal in mind – fewer abortions. Unfortunately, too many members of the Republican Party are following precisely the WRONG approach to solving the problem.

The number of abortions performed annual in America is at a 40 year low. The ONLY ways to reduce the number of abortions even further are (1) mandatory comprehensive sex education for ALL high school and middle school students (2) INCREASED funding for Planned Parenthood and (3) elect public officials who aren’t under the sway of extremist groups like the Center for Arizona Policy.

Your personal sex life is nobody’s business but yours, unless you are a public figure, and your sex life is inappropriate (think Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, and Bill Cosby, for starters).

For the same reason that doctors don’t write laws, politicians should not be allowed to interfere in medical decisions that you and your doctor make in the privacy of his office..  

 I’ve seen enough fireworks in my lifetime that I don’t need to be sitting outside this coming Wednesday, but I have a feeling that once Trump announces his nominee for the Supreme Court, the fireworks will start in earnest in Washington, D.C.


Enjoy the show!

Fireworks pic

Monday, June 25, 2018

Honest John - the rest of the story

After washing our cars one Saturday afternoon in the winter of 2002, I took a goofy self portrait of myself with a cigar clamped between my teeth. In July of 2011, I included the picture in an article that I wrote titled, “Honest John”, which you can read at the link below:

When I lived in Evanston, I decided to modify the picture to include references to the various occupations and hobbies that I have been involved with over the years,  and a local printer helped me to produce the picture shown below, as well as 250 business cards that also included the same wording on the front.


For more than 25 years, I was an insurance underwriter for several different commercial insurance companies. If you’re not sure what an underwriter is, the article posted below (which I wrote nearly 30 years ago) will provide a little more guidance”

When I graduated from college, the majority of the folks that were my parent’s age worked for many years for the same company, and retired at age 65 after more than 25 years of service. Although I know several people my age who have done the same thing, that is no longer true of “the baby boomer” generation as a whole. Today’s college graduates are advised that they could experience five separate CAREERS in their lifetime. Ironically, that is essentially what happened to me. 

When I worked at CIGNA in the mid 1990’s, I was on track to have $1,000,000 in my 401-K, and have a house that was paid for, by the time I turned 65. Life had other plans, however, and I did not achieve either of those goals.. 

Without going into a lot of detail about my specific career path, I’ll simply include a few comments about each of the job titles shown on the picture shown above.

Used cars – Although I DID sell new cars in 2 different states, I also sold an awful lot of USED cars as well. Although used car salesmen are not held in high esteem, I always was completely honest with my customers, and so were MOST (but not all) of the people who I worked with. 

Insurance – not only did I work as an underwriter for commercial insurance companies, I also spent more than 5 years (in two widely different periods) selling life insurance for 3 major life insurance companies. 

Investments – During my more recent life insurance career, I also was certified to sell investments, and I’m happy to say that none of my clients ever lost money. 

College professor – at the age of 56, I sold the house and the car and moved to China in order to teach English to college students. During the year that I lived there, I met a lot of very interesting people, and I also lost 15 pounds (it’s hard to find good pizza in China) 

CPCU instructor – during my lifetime, I have earned countless designations. The CPCU designation is an insurance designation that is roughly equivalent to an accountant’s CPA. I completed the 5 year course in 4 years (which enabled me and my wife to get a free vacation to Hawaii), but I later  TAUGHT college level CPCU classes to people who worked in the insurance industry. 

Philanthropist – I am far from daddy Warbucks, but have contributed to a wide variety of charities over the years 

Marriage counselor – on more than one occasion, I have had young girls who I did not know approach me for advice on their relationships. Perhaps they were under the impression that I had an honest face, but I’ll never know for sure.  

Claims adjuster – although I’ve never OFFICIALLY been a claims adjuster, I have been asked to give my advise on some specific general liability claims, and was paid enough for my efforts to buy a couple of new suits. 

Public speaking – for more than 25 years, I was a member of Toastmaster International. In addition to give literally hundreds to speeches, I also earned more contest trophies that I can count, and in 1993 I was named the District Toastmaster of the Year (in a district that had 3000 members). 

Author and publisher – I’ve been writing articles for various publications for more than 30 years, and I became an online published nearly 10 years ago. I am probably one of the few people you know who has actually received a check from Google, as a result of my online publishing. 

Book critic – I’ve written evaluations of numerous books. My longest book report (about the Koran) is longer than 4000 words. 

Chef – both Sharon and I LOVE to cook. In recent years, I probably spend more time cooking meals than she does. 

Travel agent – I’ve made reservations for numerous trips in my lifetime, including for people other than me 

Mechanic – being a grease monkey becomes less appealing as you get older, but I have spent many hours in my lifetime doing mechanical repairs on my cars – and I still have the cleanest and shiniest car in my neighborhood. 

Preacher – due to my Toastmaster background, I was asked (on 2 different occasions) to fill in for the pastor of the day and give his sermon. 

Notary public – one of the companies I worked for needed a notary public on site, and I served in that capacity for a couple of years 

Pilot – admittedly, my career here was brief, but I actually DID have control off a single engine Cessna in the skies over Minneapolis one night a long time ago


Athlete – I have belonged to various gyms most of my life, and also have participate in a variety of sports, including handball, racquetball, and bicycling. I’d also include golf, but only for comic relief. 

None of these pursuits mean that I am a Renaissance man, but they DO prove that you can do anything that you want to if you set your mind to it.







Friday, June 22, 2018

the Baltimore catechism

Most of the people that I know went to Catholic schools, at least through the end of 8th grade. My sister and I both attended Catholic high schools, and she also went on to graduate from a Catholic university (St. Katherine’s, in St. Paul, Minnesota). As a result, we are all familiar with a document called the Baltimore catechism, a publication that is still in print today. Today’s revised version, published in 2004,  is titled “the United States Catholic catechism for Adults. 

The first official Baltimore catechism was used from 1885 until the late 1960’s, and it is still used even today in a few Catholic schools. However, the origins of the catechism go back even  further, since it was based on Robert Ballarmine’s 1614 Small  Catechism.

Over the years, it has been refined a few times. The original version contained 421 questions, but an abridged version emerged early on with a more manageable 208 questions. The first book was essentially written by one man over a period of ten days. The revised version published in the 1950’s was the work of numerous bishops, theologians, scholars and teachers, and took a lot longer to produce. 

The catechism was actually produced in 4 volumes, each of which was intended for a specific age group. 

Volume 1 presented the basics of the Catholid faith, and was aimed at children from first communion through 5th grade. 

Volume 2 was designed for students in the 6th through 9th grade, and for those preparing for confirmation.

Volume 3 was designed for students who have received confirmation and high school students.  

Volume 4 is intended to be a reference book,  or as a teacher’s manual for the original Baltimore catechism. 

If you wanted to refresh your memory of what was in the Baltimore catechism of your youth, Amazon has a wide variety of options for you, ranging from  10 volume set for $36.87 to a Kindle version that is absolutely free. 

By now you are probably wondering, “why is this crazy guy writing about the Baltimore catechism?. The answer is easy. 

It was in the news this morning. 

 The current administration has been using the Bible to justify the inhumane practice of separating children from their parents at our Southern border – and a Catholic nun named Sister Simone Campbell is calling them out for their hypocrisy. She is the executive director for a Catholic social justice lobby called Network, and this is what she had to say:

“It is very biblical to love one another, support families, welcome the stranger, Hunger and thirst for justice. It is NOT biblical to create bad orders and force ICE to tear families apart. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOR AND OUTRAGEOUS JUSTIFICATION!”

 Many religious leaders raised objections to Trump administration justifications for policies that were so unjustifiable that the president eventually overturned some of the cruelest elements with an executive order.

“It is not biblical to take children away from their parents. It is not biblical to ignore the needs of the stranger. It is not biblical to enforce unjust laws. Do not use the Bible to justify sin.”

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti–death penalty activist, asked: “Why is the Attorney General of the United States quoting the Bible to justify an immoral law?”

While all of these critiques were vital, and instructive, Sister Simone settled the debate by pulling out the 1903 Catechism and pointing to the section that reads: “If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience.

As you might suspect, the website for Sister Simone’s organization, Network, has a decidedly liberal slant to it, but it is still worth reviewing.

I’m not sure what the my former pastor Father John V. Ryan would think about all this. Somehow, though, I think he would be pleased to know that at least SOME of his former students are still thinking about the Baltimore catechism.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The problem we all live with

The Problem We All Live With is a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell that appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. It depicts Ruby Bridges, a six year old African American girl on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, an all white school, on November 14, 1960, during the New Orleans school crisis.

Although her walk to school occurred more than six years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case was decided, colored people in America still suffered harsh discrimination. Separate bathrooms and water fountains still were common in 1960, and lunch counters were segregated until the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in was held from February 1, 1960 until July 25 of the same year. The Freedom Riders did not start their protests until 1961. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on July 2, nearly a year after Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. However, the passage of the Civil Rights Act still did not allow colored people to vote. The march from Selma, Alabama in 1965 finally brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act on
August 6, 1965.


As of today, 32 states have voter ID laws, which are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to discourage voting by minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats. 7 of those states now require a photo ID in order to vote. The excuse for these laws is to reduce voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent in this country.


The editorial cartoon shown above was published by Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic yesterday. The black girl has been replaced by a young Central American refuge, and the U.S. Marshalls have been replaced by embers of Homeland Security, but the message is still the same.


The majority of the people in the current wave of asylum seekers come from the Central American countries of Guatamala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which are among the most violent countries on the face of the Earth. What many of the conservatives in this country fail to understand is that people who are seeking asylum are NOT illegal immigrants, but simply people who are seeking asylum, which is NOT illegal. One of the asylum seekers is a woman from Guatamala, who is suing the Trump administration for taking her 7 year old son from her as she crossed the border. Not only was she escaping the general violence in Guatamala itself, she was also escaping from an abusive husband who was threatening to kill her and their son.

The current inhumane practice of separating parents from their children was instituted on April 1. Although it was announced by Jeff Sessions, it was actually the brainchild of senior advisor Stephen Miller, who also wrote Trump’s dystopian inauguration speech, as well as Trump’s Muslim bans.



The vast majority of the people in this country, on both sides of the aisle, recognize that the current process of separating parents from their children is inhumane, and should be stopped immediately. However, as Laurie Roberts pointed out in today’s column, there are a surprising number of people who fully support Trump’s policy. In view of the fact that 62 million people voted for a man who every major newspaper in the country said was unfit for office, perhaps that should not be e surprise after all.


Ironically, January 20 is World Refuge Day, which was created by the United Nations on December 4, 2000, and effective June 17, 2001, which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Ultimately, the date was changed to June20 in order to coincide with Africa Refuge Day, which was celebrated on June 20.


Although Pope Francis has long been a supporter of refuges (and gotten criticism for it) the Roman Catholic Church, under Pius X, instituted the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 1914.


The advantage of having a free press is that the glare of publicity can sometimes reverse policies that are clearly not in the public’s interest. The New York Times recently interviewed Stephen Miller, but did not air the interview at the request of the White House. Then, earlier today, Trump signed an executive order halting the administration’s policy of separating migrant families detained at the border because “I didn’t like the sight of it”.


No shit, Donald. Neither did we.


The problem that we all live with, of course, is political.  However, starting in November of this year, the voters of this country can start to solve the problem by electing the right people to positions of power in this country. It may take until 2020, but the excesses of the most corrupt administration in our country’s history will eventually catch up to Donald Trump, and he will no longer be in power.


Monday, June 18, 2018

the word is Om

I won’t tell you who the young woman in the picture is, but I WILL tell you that I have known her for a very long time, and she is a truly remarkable person.

Every time that I view this picture, the first thing that comes to mind is a song that I first heard almost exactly 50 years ago. “Om” is the last track on the third album released by the Moody Blues. The album, “In Search Of The Lost Chord”, was released by the group in July of 1968.  

Have a listen:

Although the group started out playing rhythm and blues, they quickly branched out into a variety of rock variations. Their second album, "Days of Future Passed", was a blend of rock and classical music. “In Search of The Lost Chord” is most accurately described as “psychedelic rock”. When you listen to the song shown below, you will understand why.

The promotional video that you see above was shot at Groot-Bijaarden Castle near Brussels, Belgium, an edifice that dates back to 12th century. 

4 members of the group took LSD together early in 1967, and it is entirely possible that they may have known Timothy Leary personally. To use the terminology of the 1960’s, Leary was “far out”, an adjective that is further heightened by the fact that his ashes (and Gene Rodenberry’s) were shot into space after his death in 1997. If you are a “trekkie”, you may remember that Rodenberry created the Star Trek television series in 1966. 

The Moody Blues” was FINALLY inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April of 1968. Sadly, founding member Ray Thomas was not there to enjoy the honor, due to the fact that he passed away from prostrate cancer on January 4, 2018. 

Like many of the musical groups that I grew up listening to, the Moody Blues has had remarkable staying power. Except for a brief hiatus in the 1970’s, they have been performing together since 1964, and they will be playing in Las Vegas until October 6, 2018.  

In today’s world, we are constantly inundated with a lot of noisy nonsense. For the sake of your mental health, turn off the TV, stare at the picture at the top of the page, and play a little bit of the magic produced by an aging rock group a long time ago. 

You’ll feel a lot better. 




Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I've got you, babe

Due to the rush of our daily activities, most of us missed the fact that one of our favorite performers just had a birthday not long ago. 

Cherilyn Sarkisian Bono Allman was born on May 20, 1946, which makes her 72 years old.

She first burst onto to the music scene in 1965, when she teamed up with Sonny Bono to form the duo known as “Sonny and Cher”. Right out of the box, their song, “”I’ve got you, babe” reached number one on the American and British charts. By the end of 1967, they had sold 40 million records worldwide, and became Time magazine’s “it” couple. Even before she married Sonny in 1969, she also embarked on a solo career in 1966, and in 1970, she started The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

After divorcing Sonny in 1975, she started performing in Las Vegas (in 1980), and she moved to Broadway in 1982. She started acting in films in 1983, when she debuted in “Silkwood” in 1983. “Mask” followed in 1985, and was followed by “Moonstruck”, for which she earned an Academy Award for Best Actress.

She continued to release records, , and she also continued to tour. Her 2002-2006 "Living Proof: The Farewell Tour” became one of the highest grossing tours of all time, earning $250 million. In 2008, she signed a three year deal with Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for $180 million, but she is not slowing down anytime soon. 

Later on this year, she will be performing in the film, “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again”, and she will also be traveling to Australia for another concert tour.  

In her career, Cher has won a Grammy, an Emmy, an academy Award, three Golden Globes, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and a special CFDA Fashion Award. 

Sharon and I saw Cher in concert once in Chicago, and the show was definitely worth the $75 admission price. It was almost worth that much just to see the costume changes, which occurred rapidly and frequently . 

Cher is another one of those classic “rags’ to riches” stories. 

Her father was an Armenian-American truck driver with drug and gambling
problems, and her mother was a was an occasional model and actress. Her father wasn’t around much when she was an infant, and her parents divorced when she was 10 months old. 

Her dad’s side of the family has a fair amount of gypsy blood, and her mother’s side was English, German, and Cherokee. For that reason, she has a strong personal connection to “gypsies, tramps, and thieves” and “half breed” . 

Just for fun, let’s listen to both of them again.

Happy birthday, Cher, and may you have a lot more of them in the future !

Saturday, June 2, 2018

suicide is painless

M*A*S*H, the television series, was based on the 1970 movie with the same title, which was based on the 1968 novel, titled MASH. The television series premiered on September 17, 1972, and the final 2.5 hour episode (titled “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”) aired on February 28, 1983. The viewing audience was 125 million people, which broke the record for the highest percentage of homes with televisions for a television series. The show adopted its theme song, “suicide is painless” from M*A*S*H, the movie, which used the same theme song.

To be honest, I don’t think of the suicide issue very frequently, but it’s popped up on three separate occasions in recent weeks. My first real exposure to the issue happened in 2005, when one of my MetLife clients took his own life. At the appropriate time, I will tell you more about “Dan’s story”.

My first exposure in the recent past occurred just a few weeks ago, when I finished reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, “The Pact’. It’s a story about an intelligent 17 year old girl who decided to end her life, and she asked her long time boy friend (and neighbor) to assist her. Like virtually all Picoult’s novels, it was very thought provoking, but the subject matter made it a difficult book to work through.

The second reference to suicide was a recent column by a local columnist, named Linda Valdez, which you can read at the link posted below:

The title, “let old – not just terminally ill – folks decide when they die” will give you a good idea about some of her thoughts.

The third reference to suicide happened today, June 1, when Brittany Maynard’s husband, Daniel Diaz, was on Megyn Kelly’s show. The link below tells you more about her, but the short story is that she developed astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer, when she was 29 years old. At the time of her diagnosis, she had been married for roughly 14 months. Although she still had some good days after her diagnosis, she had many more days filled with pain and reduced communication skills. Since there is no cure for her disease, her choices were either a long and painful death, or a quick and pain free death. Since assisted suicide was illegal in California at the time, she moved to Oregon, and her life ended peacefully on November 2, 2014.

At the time of her death, only 3 states had death-with-dignity laws. As of today, that number has increased to 6, but will become 7 when Hawaii’s law becomes effective on January 1, 2019.

The average number of suicides each year in America is 44,965, or an average of 123 per day. 7 out of 10 suicides are middle aged white men, and the “method of choice” was firearms, which caused 51% of the deaths. Montana has the highest number of suicides, but is closely followed by Alaska. Not surprisingly, the states that have the toughest gun laws also have the lowest number of suicides

 I plan to live to be 100 years old, or darn close to it, so there is little chance that I am going to “off” myself at some point in the future. However, due to the wide variety of problems facing people who ultimately decide to “check out” a little early, I am not about to question their motives, since none of us will ever know what led them to make a very difficult decision.

I will admit, though, that Dan’s suicide made me mad, and here’s why: 


 Dan’s story 

The note in yesterday’s e-mail hit like a ton or bricks.

A guy named Bob, whom I have never met, sent me a note about Dan, who
was his neighbor and friend, as well as my client (at MetLife) and
friend. The note mentioned that Dan had passed away on Wednesday,
August 3, and the wake was today (August 5) in Oakbrook Terrace, a
western suburb of Chicago.

Dan and his wife Mary had purchased several products from me when I was
at MetLife, and Dan has been trying to buy a VW Passat from me for
months, but his wife is still a little nervous about spending the extra
money, even though they are well off financially. We’ve talked together
on the phone on a pretty regular basis, and I was a frequent recipient
of his email literature, some of which I passed on to some of MY
regular email correspondents.

Since Dan really was a hell of a guy, and I considered him a friend, I
decided to take a few hours off from work to attend his wake. Although
Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon can really get brutal, my
three-hour round trip actually could have been a lot worse.

After I got to the wake, his younger daughter quickly advised me that
her dad had taken his own life, which brought a little misting to my
eyes, and an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Dan had
been plagued with a variety of medical problems for a number of years,
which had forced an early retirement several years ago. Had he lived to
be 80 or so, he would have won the "curmudgeon" award from whatever
nursing home he wound up in, but he still was an enjoyable guy in spite
of his characteristic bluntness.

Dan’s frustration with his medical problems certainly are
understandable, but the thoughts that kept coming back to me on the
drive back to Evanston are that neither one of his daughters (they are
roughly 18 and 20) will ever have the opportunity to walk them down the
aisle with their dad on their wedding day, or have him play the role of
grandpa to their children, or have him watch them enter the world as
new college graduates (the eldest daughter just finished her second
year at Northwestern, and will be attending a semester of college in
Dublin next fall).

I’ve offered to help his wife a little bit with the MetLife stuff after
the dust settles a little, but hopefully (and more importantly) I can
offer her a few kind words to ease her pain.

The lesson that all of us can learn from Dan is that even if our
troubles at times seem overwhelming , ALL of us have a vast network of
family and friends that can help us get through. I’ve had more than my
share of bad situations in recent years, but my Irish stubborness (and
a few trusted confidantes) has helped me to overcome some pretty
daunting challenges.

I’ll hoist a glass of Guinness in Dan’s honor as often as I can, but
I’ll always remember him as a friend who’s time came sooner than it
should have, and it may take me a while to work that anger out of my

My closing thought (and advice) is this:

If things look dark and dreary, NEVER give up the ship. Help can always
arrive when you least expect it, AND from unexpected sources.


In the final analysis, of course, suicide is NOT painless. Although it may finally bring permanent relief to the person committing the act, nearly all of those people leave behind friends and relatives, who will be forever tormented by the fact that maybe, just maybe, they could have done SOMETHING to help, but were unable to. As a society , we should also be troubled by the fact that an average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day, and spending $30 million spent on a military parade is money that could have been better used to provide preventive measures for them.